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Lessons on Starting Something You Love

Last week I spoke at an event called Start Something You Love.

Following the event the organisers, Rob and Dom, have summarised what advice they picked up from each speaker.

Apologies for including my own ‘advice’. It seemed vain to do so and obfuscatory not to. Anyway…

So… here they are… a few things Esc learnt from each speaker.

PS. Any suggestions for improvements or to add your own lessons please comment below.

Lara Morgan (Slides here.):

Lara talked about setting up Pacific Direct in her early 20?s, the challenges and excitements of growing it, and the eventual exit in 2008 for £20m.

  • The importance of brutal self-awareness: Know your weaknesses and seek skills that you don’t have.
  • No illusions: It is going to be tough. There will be difficult months (years even). And at some point or another your business is going to be tested in a way you couldn’t have anticipated. ”Don’t be deluded, it is hard and there will be some hideous moments, but don’t ever give up. If you start something you love, you’ve got every chance of success.” Don’t give up.
  • Hold onto equity: Say no for as long as you can. EXIT on the right price and terms.
  • Ask for help: “If you ask you often get. If you don’t ask don’t expect.” Get out and network. Meet people. Talking with other people can be inspirational. Try to get a mentor (or several).
  • Stop fannying around: Stop making excuses for not doing something.
  • The importance of people: The power of those around you: find great people, treat them well. ”You need to do some dull stuff as your business grows, like appraisals, but actually they’re not that dull because if you do them the right way, with career development and reviews, your team will stay with you,”
  • Lead & motivate: Motivate your people with your big goal. ”Leadership is the art of mobilising others to want to struggle for shared aspirations.”
  • Sell sell sell: Promise you can deliver then make sure you do. Cash remains king. Fake it – professionally.
  • Keep a scorecard, work with numbers: Measure the important stuff even thought it is boring.
  • Choose the life you wish to lead, plan it and make it happen

Zarine Kharas (Slides here.):

Zarine escaped the city herself. She founded Just Giving. She shared her story with us.

  • You CAN start your own business: Entrepreneurship is a profession and can be learnt. “It’s hard, challenging and immensely rewarding.
  • Persevere: It’s not going to happen overnight. You should persevere regardless of the set backs…
  • Slaughter sacred cows: Ignore conventional wisdom. Be brutally honest about what really needs to be done.
  • Be bold: Courage and boldness goes a long way. Be brave.
  • Leave your ego at the door: When you strike out on your own nobody cares who you are
  • Find great people: It’s important to be a people person – get the right team in place
  • Escape the city – sooner rather than later: Life is better when you’re working for something you really care about. Zarine used a couple of great phrases: “Corporate fugitives”. “Faceless conglomerates”.
  • Stop obsessing over killer ideas… instead look for opportunities. To be successful in business, it’s not necessary to have that “eureka moment”, you just have to be able to spot an opportunity.
  • Fundraising is soul-destroying
  • Do something good: Just Giving has shown that individual, real people can have an impact – so can you.

Alastair Humphreys (Slides here.):

Al left uni and cycled around the world. Determined not to waste this one, precious life Al has turned adventure into his profession. His message was simple: get out there and do stuff. Don’t waste your life.

  • It’s about time, not money – check out the Deathclock. Your time is infinitely more important than money so why fritter it away by plodding through a life that you don’t enjoy. Al quoted Dr Pepper: ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’
  • Set yourself a big scary goal and go and do it. Or don’t and waste your life.
  • Go micro – you don’t have to cycle around the world to have a micro-adventure. Al walked around the M25 and enjoyed it (mainly because it was miserable)
  • Anyone can do it – It’s not about being super-human
  • Say yes to stuff – exciting opportunities will come from saying yes to things. Al’s first journey sparked opportunity after opportunity, and he is now lucky enough to earn a living whilst travelling around the world.
  • What are you so afraid of? We are lucky to live in the decade and country we live in. Even if you’re not stinking rich you’re not going to starve / die if you quit your job.
  • Don’t over prepare – do it the Wikipedia way. Learn / figure it out as you go. You don’t have to know what the outcome will be before embarking on a voyage
  • Make a decision: What kind of life do you want to live? Now go and live it.
  • Most importantly. DO IT. Get out of your own way. Think to yourself “what’s the the worst that will happen?”. You will often find it’s not as bad as you’re making it out to be.

Ed Stafford (Slides here.):

Ed walked the length of the Amazon River. It took him over 800 days. Everyone said he would die. He didn’t.

  • Take inspiration: when in moments of doubt imagine someone you really respect looking over your shoulder saying ‘come on’.
  • Do it with the right people: Have a partner in crime to tell you when you’re being a wimp lying on the road naked 50 km from your goal.
  • You will find help everywhere: People will help you anywhere in the world – even if at first they look like they want to kill you.
  • Everyone will tell you you’re mad: and although your close friends and family will encourage you – they haven’t got a bloody clue what it will take!
  • Have a cause / do good: even if the original impulse is to do it for yourself.
  • We’re all really lucky: no matter how tough you think your lot is, there will always be people who are worse off. Ed told us about the guy who walked with him for a few weeks whose mother had been murdered the week before. We should remember how lucky we are.
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